Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Turkey Shoot (1982) aka Escape 2000

This brutal Australian action movie was ravaged by critics Down Under who weren’t used to seeing such homegrown malice and gory mayhem on their screens. In the United States, more than ten minutes of violence were snipped out of the picture by New World Pictures before it hit theaters as the R-rated ESCAPE 2000. Many of those who worked it, including director Brian Trenchard-Smith (DEAD-END DRIVE-IN), appear embarrassed to have contributed to it. No doubt, TURKEY SHOOT is a mean-spirited picture and a lively variation on Richard Connell’s celebrated story “The Most Dangerous Game.”

Sadist Thatcher (Michael Craig, who was in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND) is the cruel commander of a prison camp, where so-called “deviants”—those unwilling to conform to the government’s will—are sentenced to be “rehabilitated” through rape and torture. Among the newest inmates are Chris (ROMEO & JULIET’s Olivia Hussey), a beautiful innocent, and escape artist Paul (THE STUNT MAN’s Steve Railsback), whose antisocial behavior includes broadcasting messages of freedom over a pirate radio station. Paul, Chris, and three others are chosen for Thatcher’s personal “turkey shoot,” where they are released into the surrounding wilderness on foot to be hunted like game by the commandant’s bloodthirsty aristocrat friends.

Trenchard-Smith could have used a bigger budget (I like my explosions bigger and brighter than those engineered by special effects artist John Stears here), but TURKEY SHOOT is crazy, violent fun from beginning to end. All of the performers—from Hussey’s doe-in-headlights to Craig’s of-course-I-know-how-silly-this-is archness—seem to be working on different wavelengths, which is a somewhat fitting approach to this comic-book Utopia of the not-too-distant future. It’s easy to understand why critics were so eager to lay into it, since the director’s approach to the story’s violence shows no fear of excess—machetes split skulls, hands are lopped off, multiple arrows penetrate bodies, one casualty goes down as the most impressive exploding body I’ve ever seen. Trenchard-Smith claims TURKEY SHOOT to be a subtle form of black comedy, although I find it hilarious only in its over-the-top violence. But that’s good enough for me.

The terrible score is by Brian May (THE ROAD WARRIOR). Trenchard-Smith’s budget and shooting schedule were slashed by approximately one-third just days before principal photography. TURKEY SHOOT was titled BLOOD CAMP THATCHER in England, hoping no doubt to capitalize on the unpopularity of ultra-conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Filmed in Queensland and in a Sydney park. 2014’s ELIMINATION GAME was an Australian remake with Dominic Purcell (PRISON BREAK) in the lead and former TV Spider-Man Nicholas Hammond as Thatcher.

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